Which foot?

An instructor that I talked to a while back emphasized driving the kayak forward with the feet. Since I was already doing this, the idea wasn’t new. What was new to me (and has been nagging at me) is that he wanted me to drive with my paddle foot. That is the foot with the pressure is the side with the blade in the water. I (self taught through reading on this point) use the other foot. So my blade is in the water on the left and my right foot has all the pressure on it.

My question is “which is the proper technique?” The way I have been doing came to me naturally but as I realize, natural doesn’t necessarily equate to proper.

The topic is now open for discussion.



I’ve seen writing from ed gilette
that advocates opposite side foot pressure, though orthodoxy says same side as the active blade

Same Side For Me…
Don’t know the orthodoxy. It’s just what I do and feel comfortable with.


Same Side
but if your butt isn’t sliding on the seat your foot isn’t doing much of anything as far as moving the boat is concerned.

When a bicyclist stands he can use the handlebar as leverage for more power. When he’s seated, pushing and pulling on the handlebar gives him no mechanical advantage.

I seem to weight my opposite foot and
use that as the “anchor” point for my torso rotation. I have dealt with several different instructors at this point and all have said I have great rotation but I am now wondering if my lower body is doing what it is supposed to or if I am paddling with only upper body and think I am driving with my legs. The only way I am going to find out is to paddle some more when the water softens up. I have always been a bit of a freak when it comes to things like this, so I am not surprised to find myself in the minority.


Same foot and why

– Last Updated: Feb-24-07 12:19 PM EST –

I started out with your issue when I first got told to pedal with my feet - it seemed most natural to put pressure on the opposite foot from the paddle. Maybe too much time on the road bike climbing hills, where I tend to sit and pull back on the opposite bar while pushing down with the other foot. I am a slow but steady biker with likely poor form.

But - once I understood what I was messing up in my forward stroke I realized how backwards that was. And the foot on same side also felt absolutely right.

Before I get to the reason why, understand that I am NOT a great forward stroke person and have a big problem with rotation. This is one of my problem areas that I spent some time getting help on this last season, but my ability to do it right is still a very mixed bag. I tend to be able to paddle correctly more easily in the Vela than my long boat, I think because the inch less beam helps.

The point of pushing the foot, for me, is to create movement backwards in the hip that is consistent with/supports rotating the torso back for the forward stroke. So when I am initiating a forward stroke on my right side, for example, I want my right hip to move back to better facilitate my torso rotating right as the blade comes back. Basically, this helps start the rotation lower down thru my abs rather than just being a more limited shoulder motion.

The reason I wanted to do it the opposite way at first was that I really was not starting the forward stroke at the right time, at least in how I was thinking about it. Instead of starting it at the moment that I had just gotten the paddle out of the water from the left side stroke, I was thinking of moving me and the paddle to the right THEN starting the forward stroke. With that mistake, I for whatever reason tended to push on the wrong foot to get around for the start of the next stroke.

But that was wrong - the right hand forward stroke starts at the moment that the left one ends and I am still rotated maybe a smidge to the left. So to produce a clean correct rotation back for the right, the only foot that works is to push on the right foot (same side) so that the rotations starts with the hip going the same way as the abs, then the upper torso.

I should mention that if the body position and the start of the blade bite isn't center and forward, this whole thing is not going to feel quite right. I had to move the whole thing forward to get the feel of it.

au contraire
when seated you have to engage upper body to maintain even hips for a powerful transmission while SPINNING. If the upper body/lats/arms/shoulders weren’t firing with each peddle stroke the hips or upper body would be rocking left/right and wasting energy. The anchor through the upper body is still there while seated. That’s why Tour commentators will say “he’s looking tired, look at his upper body rock side to side”

Getting out of the saddle is less efficient but provides max. sprinting hp. The loss of efficieny is sacrificed to get the extra hp. while lactic acid is building up. No one will be out of the saddle for an entire time trial or race, they’re in the saddle and using their entire body to spread out the load.

The parallel with cycling is still a good one because cycling has legs providing direct transmission with upper body anchoring and paddling has the arms/upper body providing direct transmission and lower body anchoring. The upper body anchoring isn’t apparent while spinning nor is it apparent while paddling but the strength and technique conditioning is similar.

good description
I honestly didn’t get it until I was teaching for a few years and saw actual racers. The ACA method as handed down on high kept saying “torso rotation, torso rotation” with no reference to hips. And sure enough I rotated everything ABOVE my hips. Even a 1/2" of sit bones sliding forward with the other hip bone sliding aft makes a BIG difference. The emphasis on torso and feet left out a lot inbetween.

The Brent Reitz Forward Stroke Video and the Forward Stroke video by Oscar Chalupsky and Greg Barton TOTALLY opened my eyes on the matter.

On the bike, in the saddle, good form is to have arms and hands as relaxed as is safe. Out of the saddle, good form is to pull on the bar on the same side you are pushing with a foot. You are pushing on the bar on the opposite side. (He wrote as he was cooling down from his Saturday morning hammerfest with his biker buddies).


– Last Updated: Feb-24-07 1:05 PM EST –

in order to climb a hill seated, accelerate while seated, time trial or otherwise put out power efficiently while seated your lats and arms are engaged cyclicly with legs.

I'm not talking rigid arms or straight pulling. Look at a racer in a sprint and out of the saddle, their arms aren't straight. I'm describing arms acting as dynamic suspension to anchor the pelvis through your back.

If you're in an aerodynamic position putting out power sure the arms are bent, they're relaxed as necessary to cushion the ride and maintain control but when power is applied the lats contract/relax as necessary to keep the pelvis flat. It's not visually evident as out of the seat sprinting but it's essential for any cyclist to develop efficient peddling/spinning otherwise they bounce up and down on the seat as the rpms get up above 60 or so. There is no way you or Lance Armstrong could spin at 80-100rpm while seated without anchoring through the arms/lats cyclicly loading/unloading through the stroke.

I'm not discounting the analogy of using arms in cycling with using legs in paddling but the totally relaxed use of arms is what upright beach cruising bikes are for, the forward leaning/bent arm position in road bikes/track/mtn bikes is necessary to engage the upper body for high hp. output and balance on the wheels. Once you put weight on your arms they are engaged, sure they are relaxed as in not locked and rigid, but engaged to support the weight, once you start putting out power the engagement is dynamic otherwise you'd hobby horse side to side or up and down which wastes energy.

ps. I'm being nit picking. Your few words focuses on it better. I really didn't get the engagement with my feet on the footbraces untill I started feeling my butt slide on the seat. It is as clear as the description you gave when getting out of the saddle and HAVING to engage the arms. I could rotate my torso until hell froze over but until my butt slid to rotate for the catch I didn't HAVE to engage the feet.
Getting out of the saddle makes you use your arms, sliding on the seat makes you engage at the feet.
My focus on upper body work in cycling comes from the experience of time trials,hill climbing and pulling up to a breakaway when high output AND high efficiency are both needed.

same side for me
Same side allows me to get maximum power from hip/torso rotation. I’ve noticed that using the feet properly doesn’t seem as critical for guys, since they can just muscle through, but for women, using those feet to drive the strokes seems to make a big difference in power.

A Small Concession
If you are mashing hard enough on a pedal to push your butt off the seat, yeah, you need to anchor with the arms. But when spinning 60 - 100 rpm I am keeping my upper body relaxed. No cyclical arm/lat thing going on and no butt bounce… and spinning is my preferred method of bridging gaps and climbing short hills. If an old fart from NC can do it, I’m sure Lance can as well.

I push with both feet
but then… I’ve always been an over-achiever.

When I paddle my whitewater boat, I tend to push with the opposite foot (since the boat spins out if I don’t.)

When I’m out paddling distance, I really don’t pay much attention to foot pressure. I just focus on getting the blade as far forward as possible and using good torso rotation and just slip into the zen of the water.

Same side

– Last Updated: Feb-24-07 5:34 PM EST –

When I began paddling I pushed on the opposite side from the stroke. That was incorrect.

In their videos, both Nigel Foster and Brent Reitz push on the same side while their knee rises on the opposite side.

I feel this is not only beneficial for torso rotation and speed, but also for tracking.

I just saw the WW reference.
This might be where I picked this habit up from. My first instruction was from a guy who was primarily ww. I don’t recall him telling me to use opposite foot but we spent an 8 hour day together the first time so I can’t remeber all his advice. I am more than slightly puzzled about the fact that every instrucotr that I have had tells me I have a really good forward stroke and they always emphasize the reason is my torso rotation and good smooth cadence. I was doing okay getting through winter until now. Now I want to get out there and fix this.


Forward stroke and pushing the boat
I will at times remember to use my foot to help push the boat move more aggressively thru a turn, again the same side as the blade but the timing isn’t always as clean as in a regular forward stroke. I often find my foot lingering on the outer side a bit long doing that (also the paddle stoke goes too far back). Me bad form, but once that happens it’s easier to find that the feet are now backwards as I get the body parts timed right with the stroke again.

I don’t have WW experience. But I can imagine that where forward motion is often coming from the water much more than your own propulsion, it is possible that opposite feet become useful in holding a line to resist that.

Same side

Same side. Bob Twogood, PaddleMasters PaddleFaster clinics, Greg Barton clinics, Nigel Foster, BCU, Chris Duff, Stev Lutsch, all teach same side.

next time try spinning 80-100rpm accelerating without your hands on the bars.

lower the source of the force
Rowers are so fast because they use leg power. Toe strap on right foot should pull right hip forward or have seat so you are sliding downhill. When right hip has slid forward, the right blade goes in water and starightening of right leg brings back the blade. As a drill, try looking at back of boat or look to other side of river, way beyond back of boat. www.kayaksport.net has free videos. I like liwowski best